Meditation is a great support for improving mental health BUT it doesn’t replace the work of cutting out the compulsions that are feeding the anxiety disorder.
For me, meditation was a key component of learning the tools to overcome a bunch of anxiety disorders. It was useful for learning that I am not my thoughts and learning how to feel anxiety and other feelings I don’t like without trying to control them or judge them. It’s been great for practicing being in the present and not letting my mind wander off to worry about the past or catastrophise about the future.
However, if you approach meditation like another compulsion you’re going to use to try to get rid of anxiety, then it’s only going to lead to more anxiety. It’s for learning skills to support the work of getting over anxiety disorders. It’s not a quick fix that replaces the work you have to do.
It is completely possible to get over anxiety disorders. They do not have to be chronic issues BUT anxiety disorders are all about engaging in compulsions to get rid of feelings we don’t like. It’s a far more effective approach to learn how to experience anxiety mindfully, without judgment, and continue to engage in healthy activities that are beneficial to you and those around you. Experiencing anxiety doesn’t have to disrupt you anymore than a bird chirping while you’re meditating. That’s more about changing your relationship to anxiety and other experiences you have. You can have the calmness of meditation with you all of the time, but if you’re constantly chasing relief from a feeling, your brain will only make you experience that feeling more so you can keep chasing relief from it. Your brain is simply trying to help you get the thing you want.
Anxiety is like sweat–if you avoid sweating, eventually everything makes you sweat. If you avoid anxiety, eventually everything makes you anxious. The path over anxiety disorders is going to involve learning how to experience anxiety. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “If you learn how to suffer, you suffer much less.”
If something is causing stress in your life, you can do things to escape the pain, but it’s far more useful to change the thing causing the pain. If you experience anxiety at work, school, or in social situations, there are changes you can make in how you’re interacting with the the environment and people in those situations, as well as the feelings, thoughts, and urges you’re experiencing internally. Anxiety is a symptom, like pain. It is signalling there’s a problem. It is not the problem.
Sometimes we experience anxiety because of things we do to ourselves, and sometimes we experience anxiety because of things in our environment that attack us. This is like experiencing pain because we’re hitting ourselves in the face with a hammer, or because a lion has jumped out of the grass and chomped down on our arm. Both situations are painful and you may want to get rid of the pain. Perhaps you could take some medication or distract yourself or meditate in those moments. You might feel less pain then. But feeling less pain won’t get rid of the problem. Relieving the pain may make you oblivious to the lion chewing on your arm, so it’ll start chewing on other parts of your body and you’ll feel much more pain, or it might make you believe that hitting yourself in the face with a hammer isn’t so bad after all. So then meditation wouldn’t be so useful. It could actually lead to you experiencing more harm, from yourself or others.
Meditation is great for meditation. It doesn’t replace learning how to be a lion tamer or learning not to hit yourself in the face with hammers.
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